On laundry day I emptied the pockets of 13-year-old Dominic’s well-worn jeans. What I found were a cell phone keyboard, two ballpoint pens, a pocket knife, a harmonica, a grocery store receipt for a bottle of soda, a dead battery, a pocket comb, a discount store card, a flint-and-steel, a dollar bill, some Orbit Mango Surf chewing gum, and a rattleback.
I was reminded of this passage from Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer”:
“By the time Ben was fagged out, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with — and so on, and so on, hour after hour. And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had besides the things before mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass doorknob, a dog-collar — but no dog — the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.”
I wondered, How would Tom’s wealth compare with the stash that my 13-year-old son Dominic had been carrying in his pockets? Here are my thoughts:
Cell phone keyboard (minus the cell phone): As useless as “a glass stopper of a decanter,” and equally fascinating.
Ballpoint pens: Better’n chalk for writing love notes to blond classmates.
Pocket knife, intact: The piece of boyhood gear in any era.
Harmonica: The iPod of Tom’s day. No “parental advisory” label needed.
Receipt from soft drink purchase: Because whitewashing sure can work up a fella’s thirst.
Dead battery: As lifeless as a dead rat, but less revolting.
Pocket comb: Because for every Tom there’s a Becky.
Discount card for a store we’ve never heard of: The equivalent of a “key that wouldn’t unlock anything.”
Flint and steel: Just the thing for lighting them “fire-crackers.”
Dollar bill: “A dollar and a quarter a week would board, lodge, and school a boy in those old simple days – and clothe him and wash him, too,” said Twain. For his dollar, Dominic could get a Snickers bar.
Orbit Mango Surf chewing gum : Good to chew “turn about” with one’s betrothed.
Rattleback: Needs no batteries; wouldn’t be damaged by an accidental dip in the swimmin’ hole, or a spell in a damp cave.
Conclusion: At any time, and in any place…boys WILL be boys.